Writer/director Joey Ally makes no bones about her political leanings via “The Hater.”
The satire finds Ally playing a progressive stalwart eager to turn Texas blue quicker than you can say, “Beto.” She’s the film’s complicated hero, but Ally can’t help but show her ideological cards.
“The Hater” flashes sizable empathy to both the Lone Star State and rock-ribbed conservatives. What’s missing is a biting sense of humor and the ability to transcend Hollywood’s anti-Trump narrative. It may take years, even decades, for that healing to commence.
The story opens with Ally’s Dorothy Goodwin losing her job as a campaign writer. She got herself arrested during a protest, accidentally burning an American flag in the process.
She mourns the loss of a great gig but not her actions, which quickly went viral. She’s shrill, angry and the epitome of a progressive scold. Even liberal audiences might struggle to rally behind her at first glance. She’s that Facebook friend that you block to blot out her 24/7 political screeds.
Dorothy decides to start a new chapter in her life by moving back to Texas and reuniting with her estranged grandfather (Bruce Dern). The two have pools of bad blood between them, something Ally’s script conveniently ditches in record time.
Then again, who wouldn’t recoil at Dorothy’s presence?
Clutching her vape pen and bile, Dorothy attempts to resurrect her political career when she stumbles upon some shocking news. The lad who once bullied her back in school is now running for office in their Texas hometown.
As a Republican, of course.
She realizes an obscure voting law would secure a Democrat victory if the Republican candidate bowed out during the campaign. So she buries her inner Bernie and runs against him, posing as a new kind of Republican.
She spends more time talking up Climate Change than the Second Amendment.
It’s a tricky premise, no doubt, but Ally makes some positive strides early in the film. Dorothy is no fool, so she massages her rhetoric to make it red-state friendly with a kiss of her hard-boiled activism. The not so hidden message? We can turn Texas blue, fellow Democrats, if we only tweak our messaging.
A pro-choice detour allows “The Hater” to argue abortion is a conservative principle (good luck with that), finding Ally in full lecture mode, albeit briefly.
“The Hater” offers several characters, including an excellent Meredith Hagner as Dorothy’s unexpected chum, who shatter conservative stereotypes. The locals have nothing but love for Dorothy’s flamboyantly gay best friend, for example. Plus, Dern’s crotchety character imbibes Fox News 24/7 but eagerly embraces his granddaughter’s campaign bid.
Dorothy’s viral video infamy, along with years of far-Left activism, would make her small town run impossible. Everyone knows everyone in her hometown, meaning her political leanings can’t be a secret. It’s one Dwayne Johnson-sized plot hole the film won’t acknowledge.
“The Hater” also could use a prickly exchange between Dern and his on-screen granddaughter to help explain their growing bond. Such a scene might do wonders for the greater political divide if handled well enough.
More lost opportunities?
We see too little of Dorothy squaring off against her old nemesis. Their conflict also involves some surprising sympathy on both sides, but that doesn’t add the necessary friction missing elsewhere.
“The Hater” isn’t a progressive screed despite some overt messaging. It’s also a tad dull.
The film’s resolution is far too neat and unrealistic, where a more outrageous finale could have amped up the satirical bite. Still, given indie film’s undeniable leanings, “The Hater” is more balanced than many might expect.
It just needs to be better.
HiT or Miss: “The Hater” offers a few wrinkles to the progressive political template, but there’s not enough laughs or insight to make the satire soar.